Tyler J. Altemose
Everyone else seems to be doing it, so why not Philly Reign, right? I've been contemplating for the past few days whether I was going to do an article on where the Flyers stand at the mid-point of the season because it seems that most of what could be said has been said. So I decided to do it but to take a different approach.
The Flyers are just one game past the halfway mark of the season, so I'm going to review how they look coming into the latter half of the season. Yes, I know they just played game number 42 in Buffalo last night. I'm not taking that game into consideration, so just play along.
First, let's look at the big picture. At the halfway mark of the season, the Philadelphia Flyers had a record of 26-10-5 (57 points). To say that their season so far has been impressive is an understatement. Here's putting things into perspective: since the Philadelphia Flyers joined the NHL in the 1967-68 season, they have had only 8 seasons where they were doing better at the halfway mark of the season in terms of points percentage. 43 seasons, and only 8 of them better at this point. Think about that.
What's also interesting is the fact that in 5 out of the 8 times the Flyers looked this good halfway through the season, they went to the Stanley Cup Finals.
So if the Flyers are looking this good, do they have what it takes to win their third Stanley Cup?
Well that's certainly a loaded question. I've seen the Flyers robbed in the playoffs, I've seen the Flyers come into the playoffs looking like they'll win it all and fail to meet expectations, and I've seen the Flyers come into the playoffs and do much better than anyone anticipated. This team doesn't give you an accurate gauge to determine how they'll do, especially with so much time remaining in the season. But there is a measuring stick I can use--the 2009-10 Flyers.
I took a look at the stats from last season as compared to how things look (or are projected to look) for this season and came up with the following:
Both for and against, this is an area in which the Flyers are much improved. You can chalk that up to the fact that head coach Peter Laviolette has put together an offensive corps that can threaten opponents offensively through the third line. And don't forget about the goaltending. After a shaky beginning to the season, both Sergei Bobrovsky and Brian Boucher have proven that they are capable of bringing this team deep into the playoffs.
It's been discussed all season, so it's no surprise that the power play is something that the Flyers need to work on (a lot). The Flyers PP, which finished last season at 21.4%, stands at a measly 16.8% so far this season. The Flyers better hope that this improves by the post season, because an anemic PP is something that has historically haunted teams in the past. Failure to capitalize on the man advantage can not only hurt your team's psyche, it can also boost your opponents' confidence.
Fortunately, the Flyers' PK remains just about where it ended last season. The added bonus for the Flyers is that they can remain an offensive threat while down a man with guys like Mike Richards and Claude Giroux on the PK unit. So while an 82.1% PK might not be the most impressive in the league, the Flyers boast an offensive threat that many teams cannot claim within their respective PK units.
This is an area that is somewhat deceptive. Last season, the Flyers finished at 50.1% on FOs. Right now, they're at 49.1%. Not bad, right? Well, when you look at individual numbers you can see that the Flyers, as a whole, are doing much worse on FOs this season than last.
But why do the numbers nearly equate then? Well, you can thank Jeff Carter for that. Last season, Carter led the centermen in the FO with a 52.4% win rate. This season, he's up to 56.5% and is clearly the anchor on this team with regard to the FO.
The fault comes with Mike Richards and Blair Betts who are both doing significantly worse on the FO this year. Richards dropped from 50.7% to 47.9%, and Betts dropped from 50.9% to 46.7%. Both of these guys have to start pulling their own weight on the FO. Puck possession means everything in the playoffs. The less you have of it, the greater your chances of facing defeat.
Claude Giroux's numbers are roughly the same, as are Danny Briere's. Briere is given a little bit of an excuse seeing that he wasn't a centerman for the majority of last season even though his FO numbers are the worst on the team (45.3%).
Sit down for this news if you aren't doing so already. It seems as if the Peter Laviolette effect has hit Philly, because the Flyers' projected penalty numbers are down by a bunch. They're looking at 30 less minor penalties and 36 less major penalties (which literally cuts that figure in half), cutting their overall PIM by 174.
I'm going to assume that the major penalties are down so much because of Laviolette's zero tolerance policy for fighting. Either way you look at it, this is a team that, compared to last season, looks--dare I say--disciplined.
Physicality is an element that has always been a part of Flyers hockey, so it's no surprise that this number is just as impressive as it was last season. Of particular note here is Darroll Powe. That guy deserves special recognition for how hard and physical he's played so far this season.
I have no doubt that once the playoffs begin other guys will fill into that role a little better. Hits keep the opponent off the puck and kill their momentum. And as I've stated before, the more time you spend with the puck, the greater your chance of winning.
So, do the Flyers have what it takes to win their third Stanley Cup? Well, the pieces are certainly falling into place. I can't think of any team in the Eastern Conference that can compete with them (and yes, that includes the Penguins who, without Sidney Crosby, have proven to have a stunning lack of depth and heart). But there is some tough Western Conference competition out there, so it's best to not get ahead of ourselves.
Furthermore, there are moves that can be made at the trade deadline that I think can make this roster even more impressive. I'll elaborate more on that at a later time, however.